It was strangely disconcerting to find myself once again sitting with top GOP strategists in the same room in the venerable Hay Adams Hotel, across from the White House, where I had met with leaders 30 years ago. The genteel furnishings hadn't changed a bit, and neither had the circumstances: In 1967 Republicans had just scored huge congressional gains, the incumbent Democratic president was in trouble, and the White House was in our sights.

Just like today.

Top priority was drafting a party platform. We need rhetoric strong enough to placate the zealots, the chairman said, while not threatening the moderates. Ruffle no feathers, and we slide into office on President Clinton's unpopularity. Around the table I heard murmurs of approval.

The issue most likely to ruffle feathers, of course, was abortion. "We have no choice," said Lew, an older man with thinning black hair. "The only thing that reverses Roe v. Wade is a human life amendment. We won with that platform in 1980, '84, '88, and would have won in '92, if Bush hadn't blown it."

"Hold it," said the man beside me. "A constitutional amendment is a red flag to Pete Wilson, who may be our nominee, not to mention front-line governors: Pataki, Weld, Whitman. If we include a human life amendment, they'll renounce it."

We all knew what that meant: A split in the party would cost us the election. Then a young man sitting across the table spoke up. "We social conservatives realize that it's not necessarily to our advantage to win every battle," he said with a pleasant smile.

The chairman took out a statement and passed copies around the table. I scanned it quickly. The statement urged debates at the state level-in keeping with the party's emphasis on decentralization-with the goal ...

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